Tuesday, June 26, 2007

My 1996

In 1996, I moved to New York City after being released from active duty serving in the Bosnian Conflict. I had been stationed at San Vito Air Station, Italy, a small reactivated radar station serving special forces troops of NATO who were sent both to Bosnia to help with relief efforts as well as help forcibly negotiate certain troubles in Europe. After my tour had ended and after my own negotiation for a seminary in New York, I moved there 'bright-eyed and bushy-tailed'.

I moved to NYC, the most magical place on earth, or so it seemed to me (and still does). What I didn't personally know about NYC was that it was in the throes of pain and death as countless men were dying of AIDS in what some survivors have called a holocaust of gruesome death and decay. While I know a few survivors (I may actually know more than just a few), there really is no way that I can fully appreciate the horror that they experienced in their 1996. In some way, I guess it is like racism- while I can sympathize with African Americans and other people of color, unless I am a person of color, I can never fully internalize and know what they experience--no matter how hard I try.

When it comes to living with AIDS, the horror they feel and experience is beyong my ability to comprehend-- they deal with the shame, the immeasurable fear, and the medical drugs that wreck their bodies. And this is only those who have the HIV virus after 1996. What horror was it like for those before then when having HIV meant certain death, a kind of death that eats you up from the inside out? Andrew Sullivan wrote an article called 1996 in which he believes that date should have its own armistice day in which the HIV cocktails were developed and saved a people (my own people, mind you) from death and destruction. Sure, having HIV today is no picnic but with the advent of the coctails, AIDS went from being a plague to a disease, and Sullivan believes that is cause to celebrate. Sullivan, as you might imagine, has his critics. There are those who contend that we shouldn't celebrate anything and they have a point. AIDS isn't over and in some places, even in developed nations, it is on the rise again. But Sullivan articulates a respite that we can't and shouldn't ignore. You can also read a brief post about Sullivan's article by going here.

Of course, he means only those who live in developed nations. In nations that cannot afford the cocktail regime, they continue to live the plague pre-1996. Everything that happened in the USA before 1996 is what people in Africa and China are experiencing every day. In these places they still use AZT (chemotherapy in a pill that destroys all the infected cells, not just the bad ones).

Let me invite you to read Sullivan's article and feel the horror, if one can actually feel something like that in a written word. Perhaps it'll give us a glimpse into the minds of survirors as well as get a taste for their disdain for the 'powers that be' whether those powers are in the White House or in the local congregation or Temple.

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